Investigating The Inhumane Treatment Of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims

The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution on Myanmar, agreeing to launch an international investigation into alleged rights violations against Rohingya Muslims. The 47-member human rights body will send a team of experts to Rakhine State, where most of Myanmar’s Muslims live, to investigate a military operation carried out in October. The operation was prompted by an armed attack, which was supposedly carried out by Rohingya insurgents, that killed nine police officers on the border with Bangladesh. According to a UN report released last month, the subsequent military operation resulted in large-scale killings, property destruction, and mass rape by security personnel. The UN’s investigation into these potential crimes against humanity is aimed at “ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.” The delegation from Myanmar has denounced the investigation.

The UN resolution also calls on the government to address widespread issues of institutionally ingrained persecution of ethnic minorities, end discriminatory policies, and ensure that refugees and internally displaced people have the ability to safely return. Human Rights Watch claims that violence and ethnic cleansing in 2012, committed by authorities and Arakanese groups, displaced over 120,000 Rohingyas and other Muslim groups. The recent violence in October has forced 74,000 people to flee over the border to Bangladesh and has internally displaced an additional 25,000. The persecution of Muslims has left a stain on the Myanmar government and its attempts at reform.

Democracy in Myanmar has only just begun the initial stages of development. After gaining independence, the country was under the thumb of the military for 70 years. Myanmar recently began its transition from military rule to democracy with the election of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the former opposition party, in April 2016. However, there are major issues holding back the implementation of liberal reforms. The Myanmar constitution gives the military a quota of 25 percent of the seats in both the lower and upper house, making it difficult to push through legislation that Myanmar’s former rulers oppose.

The new government has, so far, been unwilling to substantially challenge the military. They have, however, commissioned an inquiry of their own, led by the Vice President, Myint Swe, to look into the October operation and the resulting atrocities. The UN has said that this enquiry falls short of the international standards that will be upheld by the UN-led investigation. There are also doubts concerning the partiality and conflicts of interest that may interfere in the government inquiry. The findings of this inquiry will be released in August.

It is crucial that both the military and the government cooperates with the international investigative team by giving them full access to victims, perpetrators, reports, and affected areas in Rakhine State. The truth of what happened in October must be revealed so that it can be prevented from happening again. The rights violations against the Rohingya are impeding the progress and development of a sustainable democracy in Myanmar. In order for a fully-functioning liberal democracy to become an actuality, the rights of all people in Myanmar must be valued and upheld.

Liam Robins